Oticon Awards honor people for defying stigma of hearing loss

Recipients of top honors in the Focus on People Awards program joined Peer Lauritsen, center, president of Oticon, Inc., at the awards presentation. They are, from left, Donald Sims, Jennifer Alberstadt, Sarah Wegley, and Dylan Dunlap.

LOS ANGELES—A dozen Americans whose accomplishments have proven that hearing loss need not limit one’s dreams and aspirations were honored here September 12 as recipients of Oticon Focus on People Awards. More than 450 hearing care professionals from across the country attended the ceremony.

Over the past 14 years, the Focus on People program, sponsored by Oticon, Inc., has recognized more than 200 extraordinary people who defy the stigma of hearing loss. This year, for the first time, Oticon invited the public to cast their ballots to help determine who among the 12 finalists would be first, second, and third-place winners in the four categories. More than 3500 people voted in the 2011 competition.

“From its inception in 1997, the Focus on People Awards has relied upon the input of judging panels–made up of hearing care professionals from across the country–who volunteered their time to review the nominations and select the winners,” said Peer Lauritsen, Oticon’s president. “In 2011, we decided to empower people to add their voice to selecting the winners in each category. Our goal was to expand awareness of the program and its mission by encouraging people to log onto oticonusa.com, read the stories of the 12 finalists, and tell us by their vote who inspired them.”

Lauritsen added, “The remarkable people honored this year have transformed their lives with a positive outlook that has enabled them to overcome challenges and accomplish goals well beyond what many thought possible. Each found a unique way to direct that positive energy to make the world a better place for others with hearing loss.”



Three of the four award categories honor people who have accomplished much despite their own hearing loss. The Practitioner category pays tribute to hearing healthcare providers who have devoted their lives to helping others overcome hearing loss.


The highest award for Practitioners in 2011 went to Donald Sims, PhD, an audiologist for more than 43 years who has served as a leader, clinician, professor, and researcher at New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Sims pioneered the development of online aural rehabilitation therapy tools. He has also traveled to Africa as a volunteer, where he has brought help to poor and often overlooked Nigerians with hearing-related problems.

Also honored in the Practitioner category was Linda Remensnyder, AuD, of Gurnee, IL, who is president and owner of Hearing Associates. In 30 years in practice, she has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to patient empowerment. She was honored earlier this year by the American Academy of Audiology for her role in promoting the use of hearing loops.

Third place went to Jace Wolfe, PhD, of Edmond, OK. He is director of audiology at Hearts for Hearing, an organization whose goal is to ensure that every baby born in the state with hearing loss receives appropriate intervention.

Adult honorees

In the Adult category, Jennifer Alberstadt, a kindergarten teacher in Daphne, AL, placed first. She actively lobbies to have children with hearing loss assigned to her classroom because she feels that their presence helps her other students with normal hearing develop a greater appreciation for the challenges that hearing loss can bring.

Second place went to Sharon Beech of Chalom, AL, a single mother of three, who at age 45 enrolled in college, where she graduated magna cum laude. She then earned a master’s in social work and is now service coordinator for United Cerebral Palsy of Mobile.

Also honored in the Adult category was David Phalin of Chicago, a respected fire department Lieutenant EMT with responsibilities ranging from medical emergencies to three-alarm fires. He is one of 36 members of his family with a form of hereditary nerve deafness.


In the Student category, award winners ranged in age from 7 to 19. First place went to Dylan Dunlap of Edmond, OK, a freshman at the University of Alabama whose progressive hearing loss never held him back. In fifth grade, at a benefit concert for the Hearing Enrichment Learning Program, he became the youngest person ever to conduct the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. In high school, he was president of the Student Council.

At age 7, New York City resident Samantha Brownline has already written a story book entitled Samantha and Her Fun FM and Hearing Aid Book! Originally written for her classmates, the book, which comes with a videotape of Samantha reading it aloud, has been viewed online by well over 1000 people at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cc1U-YuxqEw.

Arielle Schacter, the other student honoree, has reached millions of people with her writing. A 17-year-old high school student in New York City, she has a popular blog/web site, bf4life-hearing.weebly.com, for teenagers with hearing loss, and has written on the Huffington Post. She is also an active supporter of the Hearing Access Program, which aims to make the world more accessible for people with hearing loss.


The top honor in the Advocacy category went to Sarah Wegley, a librarian in Chicago whose award-winning blog, “Speak Up, Librarian,” invites others with hearing loss to speak out about their own challenges, adventures, and achievements. She was recently elected social chair of the Association of Late Deafened Adults Chicago.

Focus on People also honored Michele Friedner, a distinguished anthropology scholar and researcher from Boston. She combines her insights on living life as a deaf person with a desire to learn about, and work with, deaf people in other parts of the world. She has lived on and off in India, working to improve the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing young adults.

The other person honored as an advocate was Tina Thompson of Northborough, MA. As co-director of the HLAA-Rhode Island, she is directly responsible for many of the improvements in hearing access that people with hearing loss in Rhode Island now enjoy.

First-place winners received a $1000 prize and also a $1000 donation from Oticon to the non-profit organization of their choice.